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National Clothesline
Few understand “dryclean” label
From all the discussions between the Federal Trade Commission, the drycleaning industry
and garment makers over revisions to the FTC’s care label rule one thing has emerged: the
public doesn’t really understand the care instructions they find on their garments.
Specifically, most people don’t understand what a “dryclean” care label means. According to
the FTC rule, a care label that says “dryclean” means that the garment maker has determined
that the item can be successfully drycleaned. It does not mean that drycleaning is the only
method of care that will work or that it is even the recommended method. As in all care
labeling, the FTC requires that only one workable method of care be listed.
But few people seem to understand this. A survey of consumers by Harris Interactive of
adult consumers, commissioned by the UCLA Sustainable Technology  Policy Program, found
that only six percent of the respondents correctly understood the meaning of a “dryclean” care
label.
Of the 2,000 consumers surveyed, nearly 40 percent reported that they never use a
professional cleaner.
Of those who use a professional cleaner at least once a year, 44 percent thought that a
“dryclean” label means drycleaning is the only acceptable method for garment care. Half
thought that the label means that drycleaning is the recommended method of care, leaving
only six percent who correctly answered that it means drycleaning is a reliable method but
other methods may also work.
The survey was included in written comments submitted after last spring’s FTC public
roundtable on care labels by Peter Sinsheimer, executive director of the UCLA program. He
was making a case for the FTC to require a “professionally wetclean” label on any garment that
can be wetcleaned.
Currently the FTC does not allow listing wetcleaning as a care method, but in its proposal to
revise the current rule the commission has said it is ready to institute wetcleaning as an
option, however, it has stopped short of making it a requirement.
In the past, the FTC has been adamant about requiring only one acceptable method of care
on the label, but Sinsheimer argued that failing to provide information about the possibility of
wetcleaning amounted to deception of the consumer.
“Failure to list ‘Professionally Wetclean’ on a garment labeled ‘Dryclean’ is very likely to
mislead a reasonable consumer towards the belief that drycleaning is the only or
recommended method for caring for the garment and away from the belief that professional
wetcleaning may be another professional apparel cleaning method,” Sinsheimer wrote.
In European countries where a wetcleaning label is allowed, few garment makers are using
it, Sinsheimer said.
“Thus, this evidence strongly suggests that if the FTC allows but does not require the use of
a ‘Professional Wetclean’ label there will be a very high likelihood of failure to list a Professional
Wetclean label for apparel labeled Dryclean,” Sinsheimer said.
Opposing a required wetclean label, Steve Lamar of the American Apparel and Footwear
Association told the FTC that a mandatory wetcleaning requirement “not only goes against the
current rule precedent requiring only one method of care per garment, it also imposes an
unnecessary burden on manufacturers.” He cited additional testing costs for manufacturers to
determine if wetcleaning is acceptable for each garment they produce.
“While some companies may decide the investment is beneficial for their brand, there are
many others who will not and the decision should be an optional one,” Lamar said.
Nora Nealis of the National Cleaners Association told the FTC that, while NCA is not opposed
to allowing professionally wetcleaning as a care instruction “it is not without its own set of
problems.”
“The real problem behind this lies in the failure to outreach and communicate to the
American consumer all the ramifications and meanings inherent in the information furnished by
the care label,” Nealis said. “Until that educational challenge is overcome, the commission
should expect the consumer to become even more confused because there is a new instruction
(i.e. professionally wetclean) whose meaning they are likely ignorant of and which they believe
represents the sole care option available to them.”
Public understanding of wetcleaning is another hill that Sinsheimer and other wetcleaning
advocates have to climb.
In the Harris survey, 80 percent said they had never heard of professional wetcleaning. Only
10 percent said they were aware of it while a similar number were not sure.
The FTC is still evaluating the comments on its proposal. Another round of public input is
likely before any changes to the rule are instituted.